Feminist academic targeted over advocacy for sex-segregated spaces, criticism of trans ideology

Associate Professor Holly Lawford-Smith speaks with Sky News Australia on June 20, 2021.
Associate Professor Holly Lawford-Smith speaks with Sky News Australia on June 20, 2021. | YouTube/Sky News Australia

An Australian academic says she is being targeted for launching a website promoting sex-segregated spaces on campus amid ongoing protests to protect trans-identified students.

University of Melbourne Associate Professor of Political Philosophy Holly Lawford-Smith, who is interested in preserving sex-segregated spaces, explained in an interview with Sky News Australia that the project she started caused controversy both on and off campus because it was said to be “transphobic.”

“This has been going on since February now,” she said of the antagonism she has experienced. She added that some are trying to shut down her classes and are making accusations against her about her research ethics and behavior between colleagues on campus. 

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Supporters of the professor have had water thrown at them, have been subject to profanity-laced threats and physical assaults, the outlet noted. 

The backlash started after Lawford-Smith set up a website called “No Conflict, They Said,” highlighting the clash between women and trans-identifying males who claim to be women.

The website is run by members of LGB Alliance Australia.

The LGB Alliance, which has chapters in the United Kingdom and the USA, is a group of lesbians, gays and bisexual individuals who consider transgender ideology a threat to the rights of same-sex attracted people. They warn that the ideology is dangerous and confusing to children. documents personal accounts from people who have found that conflict does indeed exist in real life between biological sex and “gender identity.” Featured stories include incidents of harassment of women and girls by trans-identifying males in public spaces and how transgender ideology manifests across Australian society.

When asked what the university is doing to protect free academic inquiry, the professor told Sky News Australia that a “chilling” effect was pervading free speech on campus. 

“I already know from a number of different students about their negative experiences in various classes that have been shut down from being able to ask questions about sex and sex-based rights, to be able to question things from a gender-critical perspective at all,” Lawford-Smith explained. 

Women are disproportionately impacted by this hostility to open inquiry, she added. Activist academics have reportedly tried to get Lawford-Smith fired and have filed petitions against her. 

The “gender affirmation” policy proposed on campus appears to be a specific attempt at limiting her public-facing activities related to her academic research, she said. The professor said that work to draft the proposal began shortly after an event in 2019 she hosted with other academics to discuss the issues related to education.   

Although still a draft, the professor said that policy measures would effectively violate the campus free speech policy by compelling staff and students to use opposite-sex pronouns when referring to transgender-identifying students, inviting the violation of sex-specific spaces and giving trans-identifying students veto power over public events and public discourse.

“The university community is quite divided over this issue,” she replied when asked if she was receiving support from colleagues who secretly tell her that they agree with her viewpoint.

“It’s absolutely not the case that it’s me versus the rest of the university. I think this has become a very polarizing issue. I have an awful lot of support, some more public than others.”

She warned that because there are "such strong feelings on both sides, it’s going to be difficult for the university to work out a good resolution.”

According to The Australian newspaper The Age, the draft policy would prohibit public speeches or events that the school deems to be an attack on gender diversity. The policy would alter the university's free speech policy to prevent academics from engaging in public discourse the university believes can "harm" the transgender community.

The professor argues that the word "harm" is not defined in the policy. 

The draft proposal comes after a queer student group called for the suspension of Lawford-Smith's feminism class over concerns course materials contained “transphobic rhetoric." Critics also called for Lawford-Smith to be suspended. 

A spokesperson for the university said that the proposed policy has been in the works since 2019 and all feedback will be considered before it is finalized. 

“One of our core values is that there must be a genuine and deep culture of respect for everyone at our university and of course this includes being completely respectful towards the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community,” the spokesperson told The Age. 

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